Under new UK Government rules, refugees who arrive in the UK and are considered “inadmissible”, such as those who have travelled using people smugglers, or on boats which have crossed the Channel, will be considered for processing in Rwanda, where they will stay if their application is granted.
The Scottish Government said the move was “an abdication of the UK’s moral and international responsibilities” and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon branded the scheme “despicable”, as refugee charities warned that the “cruel” move would put refugees at greater risk of human trafficking.
It is understood that although the initial phase of the UK Government's controversial policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for their claims to be processed will focus on adults, families with children could also be included in the policy at a later date. Lone children will not be part of the scheme.
After being sent to Rwanda while their application is processed, those who are granted asylum will be given leave to remain in Rwanda and will not be brought back to the UK.
Under the new proposals, the Home Office is also set to detain refugees who are set to be relocated to Rwanda in a bid to stop people from absconding. Refugees are not usually detained under existing rules and instead have freedom to move around while waiting for their claims to be processed in the UK.
The UK Government has claimed that the scheme will deter people from making the often dangerous journey, using people smugglers.
But Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council said: “The more we learn about the UK Government’s plans to send people seeking protection to Rwanda, the more disheartening the situation becomes. Reports that the offshoring scheme will potentially be broadened to include children, are nothing short of horrifying. The agreement between the UK and Rwanda Governments cites ‘individuals ’ and does not mention children.
“The prospect of a child being assessed as an adult in this scheme’s trial stage, and then being sent to Rwanda, is unacceptable.”
He added: “Everyone, children and adults are deserving of dignity and respect. Everybody deserves to have their asylum claim assessed fairly, in the country to which they are applying for protection. Outsourcing the entire system and our international obligations is moral bankruptcy on the part of the UK Government.”
The Scottish Government’s External Affairs Secretary, Angus Robertson said it was an “outrageous policy”.
"The Home Office should focus on improving the asylum system, not finding new and shameful ways to make it more challenging and prolonged for people seeking safety from persecution.
“The UK Government must explain how it will ensure the welfare of extremely vulnerable people in any off-shoring arrangement, when it appears to be washing their hands of them.
“Subjecting people to these horrifying arrangements is an abdication of the UK’s moral and international responsibilities. People must be able to make their claims for asylum with full and fair consideration by the Home Office and, if successful, be supported to rebuild their lives as refugees in the UK."
Addressing the proposals on Twitter, Ms Sturgeon said: “A despicable policy on its own terms.
“But add the fact that it’s being set out today to distract from #partygate and you see the utter moral bankruptcy of this Tory government laid bare. Shameful.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, however, defended the plans, saying it was "based on a desire to deter people trafficking".
He said: "We know in the last year something like 28,000 people crossed the Channel from France across to the United Kingdom. And something must be done to reduce those numbers as much as possible to deter criminals who are making a fortune out of trafficking.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel travelled to Rwandan capital Kigali to sign the deal.
Questions have also been raised over the fact that Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country are being granted visas to remain in the UK for up to three years, while those coming from other countries will be sent to Rwanda.
Glasgow immigration lawyer, Usman Aslam, who works with refugees at Mukhtar & Co Solicitors, said he believed the scheme to be unlawful.
He said: “What do we do if someone from Uganda comes here to claim asylum, send them all the way back next to Rwanda, which borders Uganda? Ukrainians who flee here, should technically be sent to Rwanda too. What about someone who flees Rwanda, do we send him/her to Rwanda to give them status here because of how dangerous Rwanda is, which is what we will be accepting if we grant them?
"Some asylum seekers have family in the UK so this will mean more separation. They may have come from one detention centre to be placed into another.”
He added: “When Boris Johnson said today that Rwanda is one of the safest places in the world, I would ask, why does your government give refugee status to those who flee Rwanda?
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said: “Today’s announcement could not be clearer – the UK government is flaunting a fundamental absence of humanity with no regard for people fleeing danger, violence or war.
“Banishing people to Rwanda, which has an appalling human rights record, is the same as the UK tearing up its commitment to give people who need asylum sanctuary. It does not matter where they come from or what their sex is or whether they are single.
“Not only is this a fundamental repudiation of obligations the UK shares with other countries to provide asylum, but this so-called partnership is a dismal repeat of an abandoned deal struck by Israel when it ‘persuaded’ people seeking asylum to relocate to Rwanda. Instead of safety, they faced abuse, trafficking, starvation and threats of being returned to countries they were fleeing from torture.
“The Government is rapidly destroying the UK asylum system at great cost to the taxpayer. If it is serious about tackling smugglers and traffickers it needs to target them, not their victims, and provide real alternatives for people to seek and receive asylum in the UK - none of which it currently does.”
Jamie Fookes, coordinator of the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, said the plan was “dangerous and inhumane”.
This comes as it emerged that a similar agreement to outsource refugee processing between Israel and Rwanda was quickly abandoned almost ten years ago, as many refugees who were granted leave to remain in the East African country after being sent their from Israel subsequently left to undertake dangerous journeys to Europe.
Under the proposal, Rwanda would take responsibility for these asylum seekers, put them through an asylum process, if they are successful at the end of the process, they will have long-term accommodation in Rwanda.
The Rwandan government said migrants will be "entitled to full protection under Rwandan law, equal access to employment, and enrolment in healthcare and social care services".
It is understood that the UK Government will assess anyone with reasons why they may not be suitable to be sent to Rwanda. Questions have been raised over Rwanda’s suitability for people who identify as LBGTQ+.
Human Rights Watch reported last year that Rwandan authorities rounded up and detained over a dozen gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children, and others in the months before a planned June 2021 high-profile international conference.